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March 9, 2009 / Jim Fenton

Globalizing Daylight Saving Time

This past weekend, the United States changed over to Daylight Saving Time.  Overall, I like DST, even though it made my 6:15 trip to the YMCA this morning very dark.

When Daylight Saving Time was adopted, initially in the early 20th century and then standardized in the 1950s and 1960s, it was a different world.  We didn’t have nearly the amount of real-time communication, or even the amount of international air travel that we have today.  It really didn’t matter that much when the United States went to Daylight Saving Time relative to the rest of the world.

In the 1980s, the company I worked for subscribed to a bimonthly publication known as the Official Airline Guide (OAG).  The OAG listed nearly every scheduled commercial flight in the world and, in the days before the Web, was an essential tool for people like myself who wanted to plan their own air travel.  The international edition of the OAG grew to nearly double its normal size every spring and fall.  The reason?  The US and Europe changed their clocks on different days, about one week apart.

Since that time, we have adjusted the dates for Daylight Saving Time several times, but have never picked the same dates as Europe.  It seems like the US likes to remind everyone of its power and sovereignty by making decisions that are different from the rest of the world.  After all, as a big and powerful country we have that right, don’t we?

What we ignore in this increasingly global economy is the cost we incur from these decisions.  While it’s true that we aren’t killing as many trees on thicker OAGs through the use of the Web, we are instead wasting enormous amounts of administrative time rescheduling meetings for a short period each spring and fall, in addition to lost productivity from missed meetings and the like.  DST doesn’t make sense for all countries, and DST has to happen at the opposite time of year in the Southern Hemisphere, so some rescheduling of meetings is inevitable if we are to have DST at all.  Of course, things in progress during the time change such as overnight flights will still need special-case schedules on the day of the change.

But why not standardize DST for the Northern Hemisphere?  We can start by adopting the European DST schedule in the US.  With an increasingly global mindset in Washington, it seems like the time (ahem) is right.

For reference, here’s a handy table of Daylight Saving Time changeover dates.

One Comment

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  1. Dave Crocker / Mar 18 2009 9:23 am

    Choose the right ‘time’ to standardize

    While it certainly is irritating for the United States to create divergence without regard for the conventions in other nations, I suspect that daylight savings time is, itself, already confusing on a global scale. Cavalier US choices might make it a bit worse, but only a bit. Many places — especially near the equator — don’t have it at all. The last thing someone in Southeast Asia wants is more daylight…

    So I think the real goal ought to get us all using a global time references, independent of local variations like daylight savings time. It would probably have a common point of reference, with a longitude offset. Anyone, anywhere, could translate the reference into local perspective. Make local idiosyncrasies have local impact.

    And, yeah, I mean UT/GMT.


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